Current Reviews


JLA: Ultramarine Corps.

Posted: Wednesday, December 19, 2007
By: Michael Deeley

Written by Grant Morrison
Art by Ed McGuiness/Val Semeiks (p) and Dexter Vines/Kevin Conrad & Ray Kryssing (i)
Published by DC Comics

Reprinting: JLA Classified #1-3 and JLA/WildC.A.T.S.

If you’re like me, you’ve probably been looking forward to this collection because of Neh-Buh-Loh, the new “Nebula Man,” who also appeared in Morrison’s Seven Soldiers mini-series. The JLA Classified issues act as a kind of prequel to Seven Soldiers.

I say “kind of,”because we don’t really know who Neh-Buh-Loh or his fairies are. Their appearance is never explained. Neh-Buh-Loh makes vague, oracular statements about his origins. They make sense now after reading Seven Soldiers, but this story offers no real information about the villain. There’s no strong connection between the Seven Soldiers and this story. You can ignore it and miss nothing.

That’s the best summary of this collection. Morrison’s stories can be described as big ideas at high speed. The three issues of JLA Classified have a telepathic gorilla eating people, mind-controlling fairies, a living universe co-existing with his infant self, an infant universe without superbeings, gorillas with jetpacks, Batman’s sci-fi closet, and the robot JLA.

Individually, those things sound awesome--and putting them all in the same story should be awesome. Many of these ideas are so great you want to see more of them. However, the story moves at such a quick pace that there’s no time for explanations. You just have to accept these strange & wonderful things and move on.

The effect is that you’re left wondering, “That was great but what does it mean? How does it work?” It’s like Morrison just threw in every idea he had then ran out of room for the story. The result is a fast-paced, action-packed comic that leaves the reader feeling unfulfilled.

JLA/WildC.A.T.S is slightly better in that you get a better sense of who the characters are. More of their personalities are revealed through their dialogue. The story is also more coherent. (As coherent as a cross-dimensional time travel story can get anyway).

Big crazy ideas are mostly limited to throwaway lines and the names of bizarre weapons. Unfortunately, this comic was originally published in 1997. The JLA and WildCATS have changed drastically since then. Back in ’97, Superman was made of blue energy, Kyle Rayner was the only Green Lantern, and WildCATS was an actual team. Recent readers will either be confused by these differences or realize that DC padded out this TPB with an old comic.

That’s my biggest problem with this collection: It’s called Ultramarine Corps, but the Corps only appears in half the book! The Ultramarines only appeared in the regular JLA series prior to this story, and The Squire is the only team member to have appeared since.

Why publish a book featuring such minor characters then include a comic that has nothing to do with them? Why not call it JLA: Multiversal or JLA: Superhuman Weapons? I will say, though, that the the book provides a stark example of how much comic art has improved over the last 10 years.

McGuiness & Vine’s work from 2005 is loose, bright, and bold. Calling it “cartoony” misses the point. It displays the characters’ personalities. The action is easy to follow. There’s the strong sense of fluid motion from panel-to-panel and page-to-page. It does the basic job of conveying the action, as well as infusing the comics with a style that boosts the emotional impact. In short, it’s very well drawn.

Contrast that with the art of Semeiks, Kryssing, & Conrad. Their art is stiffer. Characters are posing more than moving. Inking is jagged, ragged, and even sloppy. Pages are packed with detail but little is clear. The story dominates the art, like a movie with clever dialogue that’s boring to watch.

Overall, Ultramarine Corps is mildly entertaining for its price. Morrison turns in two good stories, even if they lack depth. It’s not the worst writing he’s ever done (New X-Men). In the end, though, I’m left wondering: Whatever happened to the Ultramarines? And why should I care?

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